Friday, November 4, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Mary Roach on 10 things you didn't know about orgasm

Writer, humorist and "accidental science journalist" Mary Roach has given one of the all-time most-viewed TED talks--at this writing, garnering more than 1.9 million views of the talk. Here's a clue: It's titled "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm." (And yes, this talk contains adult material.)

But there's more than titillation behind all those views. This is a research-based, fun, accessible talk that focuses on what, for many speakers, would be a difficult topic to get through. Here's how Roach handles one of her more unusual examples, in a talk full of them:
I think the most curious one that I came across was a case report of a woman who had an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth. This was something in the complex sensory-motor action of brushing her teeth was triggering orgasm. And she went to a neurologist who was fascinated. He checked to see if it was something in the toothpaste, but no -- it happened with any brand. They stimulated her gums with a toothpick, to see if that was doing it. No. It was the whole, you know, motion. And the amazing thing to me is that now you would think this woman would like haveexcellent oral hygiene. Sadly she -- this is what it said in the journal paper -- "She believed that she was possessed by demons and switched to mouthwash for her oral care." It's so sad.
Here's what you can learn from this often-viewed talk:


  • Tell us something we haven't heard before: Basing her talk in little-known data helps Roach hold the audience's attention, if only because we're unlikely to have heard these facts before. Choosing a taboo topic also means it's little discussed, and thus not overdone. Here, minute detail works.
  • Be bold: Just bringing up the topic of orgasm is bold, but dealing with it in a straightforward manner even bolder. Here's where the speaker leads the audience, into the topic and away from gratuitous humor. You'll learn a lot by the time she's done facing the topic down, because Roach makes the leap that you might want to hear more about the topic and takes the time to do it justice.
  • Use humor wisely: Roach is funny, but not in a way that undermines her topic--she laughs where we would laugh, but keeps moving. Deadpan delivery helps with this subject matter. She doesn't shy away from explicit details, but keeps them based in research and real observation.


  • What do you think of this famous speech?

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